For me, musical theatre is what chocolate is to other people: a guaranteed pick-me-up. If I’m ever feeling a bit blue, I’ll pop on a feel good sing-a-long (The Sound of Music is guaranteed to take the edge of a nasty hangover and La La Land is my new go-to for a cathartic weep) and it’ll perk me right up.
So, turning the Oscar-winning DreamWorks animated film Shrek into a musical, and letting me watch it, is akin to giving me an evening’s supply of Wispa Golds and letting me shove them in my gob in one sitting – my mood is instantly elevated, I’m hyped up and I’m grinning from ear to ear.
Initially I wasn’t entirely convinced Shrek: The Musical would work. I absolutely loved the film and wasn’t sure they’d be able to translate the humour, and sheer scale of the characters and fairytale landscape, to the stage. However, it does work. In short, it’s bloody genius.
We all know the story. Shrek the ogre leads a quiet life in the swamp until it becomes usurped by fairytale folk banished from the city of Duloc. He then sets out on a quest to take back his land. Naturally, things go awry when Shrek makes a deal with the evil Lord Farquaad (honestly, if this fella had a Tinder profile it would scream narcissistic dimwit) to rescue the princess in a tower in exchange for his beloved swamp. Cue multiple obstacles in the form of an endearing donkey, a princess who isn’t quite who she says she is, a lonely flirtatious dragon and, of course, that pesky emotion – love. The thing I enjoyed most about Shrek (the film) was how it managed to subvert the ‘Happy Ever After’ trope and prompt an audience to view fairytales with fresh eyes – and this is something the musical retains and maybe even explores further.
Steffan Harri’s performance as Shrek is fantastic. From the beginning, where he pops his noggin out of a huge storybook (this goes awry in the beginning which just makes things even funnier) to his belting rendition of Big Bright Beautiful World, he is charming and full of energy. They’re big boots to fill but Harri manages to do this well.
In the original film, the accolade of ‘show stealer’ belongs entirely to Eddie Murphy’s Donkey. Here, it’s Samuel Holmes’s Lord Farquaad who is the real crowd-pleaser. His comic timing is on point – from his facial expressions to the way he dashes about the stage on his knees throughout the evening. I howl with laughter throughout The Ballad of Farquaad (as does the fella behind me).
Marcus Ayton’s portrayal of Donkey is good, and extremely funny, but for some reason some of Donkey’s humour is lost in this production – but I think that’s more to do with Holmes’s excellent performance than a fault of Ayton.
Lauren Main does a sterling job as Princess Fiona and her chemistry with Harri is evident during a brilliant rendition of I Think I Got You Beat. Let’s face it, fart jokes will always be funny no matter how old you are (the booming chuckles throughout came from the adults, not the kids). Special mention should be made of the rest of the ensemble cast, particularly the fairytale creatures, who belt out a version of Freak Flag – each character’s vocals are incredibly powerful. Jemma Revell as Gingy is especially brilliant and carrying around a baking tray with a gingerbread man puppet attached can’t be the easiest thing to do (plus she does get to deliver the unforgettable line “do you know the Muffin Man?”).
Despite my initial hesitation, the set design is clever and moves seamlessly through the changing scenes – from swamp to city to castle – and Fiona’s transformation from Princess to ogre is done extremely well. I wondered how they managed to change her so quickly.
It’s an incredibly colourful show – the set and costume design (Tim Hatley) are wonderful and the lighting (Hugh Vanstone) is superb, making the most of the stage at The Palace. And there are also a couple of surprises along the way.
As I left the theatre, it began to rain (real Manchester monsoon weather) but even that didn’t temper my mood. I was on a high as I scurried back to Piccadilly Station, humming a few tunes as I went.
I would recommend this family-friendly show to anyone. It’s full of belly-laughs, great songs, optimism and above all, it’s a proper good love story. And who doesn’t like that?
Shrek: The Musical is on at The Palace Theatre in Manchester until January 28, 2018. For further information, or to book tickets, click here.